José Azulay has transformed UNOde50 into a prestigious high-end jewellery brand with a global presence, all while retaining the focus on quality, exclusivity and personality that have made his designs so renowned. So what is the secret to the president and creative director’s enduring success? And what does the company’s roadmap for the UK market look like? Azulay sat down to fill Professional Jeweller in on his company vision, personal inspiration and industry outlook.
José, you acquired the UNOde50 brand back in the nineties. What was your vision for the brand then? And, more than 20 years on, have your initial plans for the brand developed in the way you anticipated?
My vision was complete change, to turn it into an exclusive brand with a first-class image. I began to sketch designs, choose new materials and set guidelines. Then the brand became a great success in Spain, mainly due to its unique style.
We didn’t anticipate growing so fast, so the opening of new markets came naturally – Miami, then Italy, and now we are in more than 40 countries with over 140 stores in prime tourist locations. We did this to grow brand awareness before expanding into wholesale.
You are known for putting style and personality into your jewellery designs. Can you tell us about this creative process? Do you approach each new jewellery design in the same way?
UNOde50 is characterised by its own personality and style – that is what makes us different and that is the objective every time during the creative process of each collection. We move away from the classic concept of jewellery, which is mainly influenced by trends and means that in many cases many brands arrive with similar products.
Our product has its own very particular personality; that is what is difficult to achieve and a constant challenge when it comes to approaching the design of each model. Each one is unique with a different story. It also means UNOde50 is difficult to replicate.
Creativity is clearly a fundamental aspect of UNOde50’s brand ethos. But to grow and expand you need to be commercially successful as well. How do you balance creativity with commercial aptitude?
UNOde50 has a very strong and recognisable look, so the emotional aspects are already covered by our designs. The strength of our jewellery is also combined with functional aspects – it must be comfortable, it must sit well, it must be exclusive. We try and imagine being the wearer and each piece needs to feel comfortable when worn. As you know, all our designs are handcrafted, one by one, in our own factories in Spain.
Consumers love that we offer chunky and affordable luxury jewellery. We then pair this with striking imagery and share these with our retail partners to ensure that a uniform look is represented in every country and store that stocks UNOde50. From a global perspective, this makes it easier for the consumer to recognise the brand straight away, wherever they shop.
What’s very important for us is to establish what pieces are selling in each of our markets. We are very much data-led and because of this we have our UNOde50 iconic range. We advise retailers to keep these ranges in stock at all times as they create the highest sell-through.
I believe the key to a successful brand is to make sure each market is aligned and that the imagery and display elements complement the jewellery. You also cannot stand still; you have to forward-think and constantly evolve and grow.
Your creativity and artistic direction gives UNOde50 a unique point of difference compared to other brands in the market. How have you retained those values as the business has grown?
Our core brand values are closely linked to my personality, my way of seeing life and the concept of aesthetics. I am very much someone who loves life and that is why I enjoy reflecting this in my designs. The DNA of the brand, its essence, is nourished by my vital experience and feelings throughout this wonderful journey in life. I have tried to reflect in my designs our timeless values.
We must continue to be unique, creative and different but always in constant evolution and forward-thinking. I share my thoughts and feelings with my team and we create collections to make the wearer feel amazing when they put on a piece of UNO. I also ensure that there is a story behind every collection. This story is then shared with the design teams and sales teams, meaning that everyone is aligned and confident.
What makes UNOde50 a good brand for retailers to work with? Is creative uniqueness enough, or do you have to work at providing support and value in other ways?
Indeed, the uniqueness and differentiation regarding product means we have no competition; the use of atypical materials like leather and Swarovski crystals and our bold shapes are very original. This is why consumers choose us. Of course, there is also a lot of work and support from the marketing and commercial team creating campaigns and fulfilling market needs.
Most importantly, it is the teams out on the road supporting retailers with everything from product training to visual merchandising, ensuring the story of each collection is shared. The most successful retailers are those who are passionate about UNOde50 and truly understand how to work with it. We also ensure that the packaging complements the jewellery, so retailers get the full UNOde50 effect in-store.
Along with the use of leather, the alloy you use is one of the main distinctive characteristics of the brand. How central is this to the brand’s creative plans moving forward – and can we expect any further diversification?
We are pioneers using atypical materials like leather and also our special ‘secret’ metal alloy, which is key to the malleability and rounded appearance of our pieces. This is very hard-wearing, meaning it can be worn every day, pieces can be layered and the pieces are bold and recognisable. The alloy is also hypoallergenic and nickel-free, but on top of this we use 15-25 microns of sterling silver. Each piece feels weighty, smooth and tactile, and most importantly is comfortable when worn.
I always try to learn and improve on myself day by day. My goal is to improve the collections every season – I cannot be left behind. This implies evolving in design and using new materials to keep our spirit of surprising our consumers year by year. We have a very loyal fan base that gets excited when we are nearing a new collection launch.
This is why I create 50 limited-edition pieces per collection. These pieces are more creative and bold, and our biggest fans will do anything in their power to get hold of a piece. We also offer a wide product assortment, including women’s and men’s jewellery, watches and accessories.
UNOde50’s home is Madrid, but the brand operates globally. What can you tell us about the brand’s scale today and your ambitions for the next five years?
Our expansion has no limits. We are very focused on developing China and Russia, although we are also going to take advantage of opportunities arising in the US, Mexico and Europe because our product is widely accepted internationally. Having this global presence and ensuring our stores are in prime tourist locations impacts retailers who stock the brand. This is because consumer awareness is high and we also receive feedback from stores that a lot of consumers already know who we are. This is great feedback because it means that UNOde50 has the strength to bring even more people into retailers stores.
You work with many renowned luxury retailers all around the world, including some prestigious luxury department store names. Can you give a little bit of a sense of who they are and the reach you have?
We have a large distribution network around the world, but our focus is to be in the most prestigious retailers. The reason we choose to be stocked in retailers such as luxury department stores – like Galeries Lafayette and Le Bon Marche in France, Bloomingdales in the USA, El Corte Ingles in Spain and Fenwick in the UK, to name a few – is because consumers view UNOde50 as a designer affordable luxury brand. We must protect the brand identity and be viewed as a serious brand to encourage growth. This also enables us to be stocked in high-end jewellers next to brands like Rolex, Cartier and Omega.
Tell us how the UK fits into your global strategy? How would you assess UNOde50’s prospects and performance in the UK market?
The UK is a key market with a lot of potential because consumers like our product and we believe there is a huge market. With the current uncertainty derived from COVID-19 and Brexit, we understand that we must pay special attention to this market. The UK is overseen by our sales director Emma-Louise Gregory and her team. They are aligned with the brand vision and are also very passionate about UNOde50 and the growth of the brand. We had great growth in 2019 versus 2018 and I am positive this will continue.
We like to work with retailers who are passionate about UNOde50 and love having a unique brand in their store. We are very supportive to our retailers and we always like to welcome new ones to the UNOde50 family. The UK team has highlighted key retailers they would like to work with and have real vision for the future of UNOde50 within the UK.
There may be retailers out there that haven’t engaged with you before, but like what they have seen and heard of the brand. What new things are you working on that might make it even more enticing for prospective retailers to carry UNOde50 jewellery in their stores in future?
Each collection is unique, unrepeatable – we are in constant innovation cycles but also our designs end up becoming iconic and therefore timeless. This singularity offers a 100% sure value to our collaborators. We also really like to listen, and we receive lots of feedback and suggestions from both retail partners and consumers.
In September we will be launching our first collection for our latest fall/winter collection ‘Faces’. This has already been positively received from our sales teams around the world and it will be a great addition to any store who stocks UNOde50.
Qualitative distribution strategy underpins UK expansion for UNOde50:
UNOde50 is in a ‘premiumisation’ process, leading it towards partnerships with ‘qualitative retailers’ that suit the brand profile, according to president and creative director José Azulay.
“It is crucial to have qualitative distribution to be aligned with our high-quality products,” he explains. “We do not want to be everywhere and anywhere – quality over quantity. UNOde50 is exclusive and affordable luxury jewellery and because of the uniqueness of our brand, we can fit into a variety of retailers, from department stores to jewellers, through to high-end concept stores and premium galleries. We found success in Fenwick department stores and jewellers like David Christopher.”
UNOde50 is still growing in the UK and its vision is to work with key retailers, particularly those that are looking for bold, creative jewellery that will drive consumers into stores. “We hold our own identity and we are experiencing strong sell-through and growth with our existing retailers, even throughout the current pandemic,” adds Azulay.